Text: Pieris Panagi
Commissioner, when this pandemic is over, do you think we will be any wiser?
I hope we will be wiser and stronger. This pandemic has made us all realize, more than ever, the importance of health and the priority it deserves if we want to have functional societies and economies. Our way out of the crisis should find us more united in the field of health, both at the European and global level. We realized that there is nothing more precious in our lives other than health, and if we want social and economic prosperity, we must first strengthen healthcare. These are inextricabely linked. That is why the European Commission has proposed two crucial initiatives. First, the new autonomous program EU4Health, with a budget of 5,1 billion-euro, will aim to strengthen Member States’ health systems, will support innovation and the path to a unified digital health and more. Second, because of the lessons we have learned from this pandemic, new proposals outlining steps for creating a European Healthcare Union have been submitted.
2020 will forever be remembered as the year of the worst global health crisis in recent memory. As the Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, what has been most challenging for you?
I would say time. The biggest challenges were to send aid, to find solutions amidst an unprecedented crisis, to change laws in order to support Member States and our citizens, and to co-ordinate at European and global levels to end this pandemic as soon as possible with minimal losses. Concurrently we had to work towards being better protected from pandemics in the future but also prepare for the consequences that this pandemic will leave behind which, unfortunately are multifaceted. Another big challenge is developing a vaccine. Never in history there has been such mobilization. Funding was immediately given to vaccine manufacturers. We negotiated for their purchase in advance and, most importantly, we managed to take necessary steps to ensure that a vaccine could be released within 12-18 months without compromising its safety and effectiveness.
What triggered your interest in politics?
I’ve never felt the need to share my own political views with the world, but I’ve always felt strongly that I could change things, situations, mentalities and laws through hard work, perseverance and consultation. This is my motivation and my driving force; to speak with people, listen to them, learn from them, and draw inspiration from them. I believe this is essential in public affairs; to listen first, then act. I continue to approach my work with the same vision and optimism.
Optimism and positivity are two of your fundamental traits. Are you still optimistic about the future? Do you think we will ever be able to live a carefree existence again?
Having a positive attitude in life is part of my character and work ethic. Although this year continues to be very difficult with tragic consequences for many people, I’m convinced that through cooperation, both as countries and citizens, we will persevere. And yes, a day will come when we can travel, meet our families, our friends and have social lives again. I’m also confident that when we emerge from this crisis, we will have a different approach to the importance of our health. We all have difficult moments, especially in unpleasant situations. This is human nature, but we must gather ourselves and continue. Personally, having overcome difficulties in my life, no matter how unpleasant, I always see the glass half-full and that has determined my course.
“We realized that there is nothing more precious in our lives other than health, and if we want social and economic prosperity, we must first strengthen healthcare. These are inextricabely linked.”